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NEW YORK — Early on in the relationship drama X/Y, one of the major characters, a budding screenwriter, is advised by his exasperated agent to make his latest script more commercially accessible and to not make “a movie for an audience of five hipsters in Williamsburg.”
It’s a lesson that writer-director-star Ryan Piers Williams (The Dry Land) failed to heed for his sophomore feature, which received its world premiere here at the Tribeca Film Festival. Depicting the lives of four interconnected New Yorkers struggling with career and relationship issues, it begins with a longtime couple having bad sex, and breaking up only gets more depressing from there.
The central characters are Mark (Williams), the aforementioned screenwriter still looking for his big break; his girlfriend, Silvia (America Ferrera, the director’s real-life spouse), who sends him reeling with her confession that she’s slept with a co-worker (Common); Jake (Jon Paul Phillips), a handsome bi-sexual model, DJ, artist and Polaroid photographer who buries his pain over a break-up with a longtime girlfriend by engaging in casual sex; and Jen (Melonie Diaz), whose unlucky love life includes a recent Internet hook-up with a man who turned out to be married and who may have infected her with herpes.
Following each of these figures as they haplessly attempt to find happiness, often via cheap sexual encounters — Silvia screws her co-worker in restaurant bathrooms during lunch hours; Jake, who has a habit of painting in the nude, seduces Mark, etc. — the film adopts a relentlessly mournful tone with endless shots of the actors looking miserable and constantly checking their cell phones for text messages, all to the accompaniment of Will Bates’ (of the band Fall on Your Sword) dirge-like musical score.
Although clearly meant to be sympathetic in their fruitless desire for emotional connection, the morose characters — the title refers to their falling between Generation X and Generation Y — mainly come across as dysfunctional and self-absorbed, with the hard-working actors failing to make them remotely likeable. The exception is Dree Hemingway, quietly moving as a sweet young woman who musters up the courage to ask John out for coffee only to find that he’s emotionally unavailable.
Ultimately coming to resemble a series of unfortunate romantic encounters arranged via a dating website, X/Y fails to bring much insight into its gloomy portrait of relationship-challenged New Yorkers.
Venue: Tribeca Film Festival (Deconstructed Pictures, MindSmack Productions, Take Fountain Productions)
Cast: America Ferrera, Ryan Piers Williams, Melonie Diaz, John Paul Phillips, Amber Tamblyn, Common, Dree Hemingway
Director-screenwriter: Ryan Piers Wiliams
Producers: America Ferrera, Thomas B. Fore, Jason Michael Berman, Ryan Piers Williams, Kwesi Collisson
Executive producers: Kim Gillingham, Mark G. Mathis, Caroline Kaplan
Director of photography: Pedro Gomez Millan
Editors: Sabine Hoffman, Sloane Klevin, Marco Perez
Production designer: Simone Duff
Costume designer: Olivia Mori
Composer: Will Bates
Not rated, 82 minutes
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